Archive for the ‘Green Patents’ category

Greenshift Seeks Quick Injunction Against Cardinal Ethanol

March 8th, 2010

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In a previous post, I wrote about GreenShift Corporation’s (GreenShift) patent suit against GEA Westfalia Separator, Inc. (Westfalia), in which GreenShift accused the New Jersey-based separator and decanter maker of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,601,858 (‘858 Patent).

Last month GreenShift asserted the ‘858 Patent again, alleging that Indiana ethanol maker Cardinal Ethanol (“Cardinal”) is infringing the patent by using equipment that employs the patented ethanol processing methods.  The suit was filed in federal court in Indianapolis.

The ‘858 Patent is entitled “Method of processing ethanol byproducts and related subsystems” and is directed to methods of recovering oil from byproducts of ethanol production. 

Ethanol production by dry milling creates a waste stream comprised of byproducts called whole stillage.  According to the ‘858 Patent, whole stillage contains valuable oil but prior processes for recovering this oil have been expensive or inefficient.

GreenShift’s patented methods include mechanically separating the whole stillage into distillers wet grains and thin stillage and then running the thin stillage into an evaporator to form a concentrated byproduct, or syrup.  The syrup is fed through a second centrifuge, which separates usable corn oil from the syrup.

Along with the complaint, GreenShift filed a motion for preliminary injunction (PI), in which it argued that it has a strong likelihood of proving infringement, the ‘858 Patent is valid, and it would suffer irreparable harm if Cardinal is not enjoined (see packet including GreenShift’s press release, the complaint and the PI motion here).

The PI motion includes a detailed claim chart that seeks to demonstrate Cardinal’s alleged infringement of claims 8, 10, 12, 13, 14 and 16 of the ‘858 Patent. 

As to the alleged harm, GreenShift states that Cardinal’s infringement is causing it to suffer “loss of market share, opportunities, revenue and goodwill” as well as damage to its “reputation as a technology pioneer.”

In A Third Action Against Mitsubishi, GE Asserts New Zero Voltage Ride Through Patent

March 4th, 2010

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In previous posts here and here, I discussed the General Electric Company’s (GE) two wind turbine patent actions against Mitsubishi, one in the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) and the other in federal court in the Southern District of Texas. 

Last month GE added a third case to the mix when it sued Mitsubishi for infringement of two patents relating to a wind turbine base frame and zero voltage ride through (ZVRT) technology. 

Filed in the Northern District of Texas in Dallas, the complaint (gecomplaint.pdf) identifies Mitsubishi’s 2.4 megawatt wind turbine as the allegedly infringing product.

The patents-in-suit are U.S. Patent Nos. 6,879,055 (‘055 Patent) and 7,629,705 (‘705 Patent).  The ‘055 Patent is directed to a two-part base frame for arranging a drive train on the tower of a wind turbine.

The upper part (6) of the base frame carries the drive train, and the lower part (16) of the base frame has an azimuthal drive device (23), which rotates azimuthally to adjust the rotor axis as a function of wind direction. 

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The connection point (15) that joins the upper and lower parts of the base frame extends along a horizontal cross-section having a larger dimension in the direction of the rotor axis than in the perpendicular direction. 

According to the ‘055 Patent, this construction of the connection point (15) is favorable for absorption of stress from the rotor.  The two-part design also makes transport and assembly of the base frame easier.

The ‘705 Patent, which issued in December 2009, relates to methods of facilitating zero voltage ride through so the turbine can remain online during voltage dips down to zero volts. 

As the ‘705 Patent explains, some gearless direct drive wind turbine generators include power converters, and both the generators and the converters are susceptible to grid voltage fluctuations. 

The patented methods mitigate wind turbine generator trips during events in which voltage amplitude decreases to zero volts, as opposed to known low voltage ride through methods that can handle less extreme voltage drops.

The patented systems and methods include a phase-locked loop (PLL) regulator to receive voltage measurement signals from a plurality of voltage transducers.  The PLL regulator includes a PLL that receives the sinusoidal voltage measurement signals.

If a voltage amplitude is outside a pre-determined range, an algorithm within the PLL generates a control signal and the PLL regulator changes to a different mode or state of operation.  A plurality of states of operation are possible, with varying parameters such as gain constants.

According to the ‘705 Patent:

the plurality of states of operation facilitate zero voltage ride through (ZVRT) as well as other grid faults while also facilitating normal operation   

This lawsuit comes shortly after the ITC terminated GE’s complaint against Mitsubishi.  GE’s infringement suit in the Southern District of Texas has been stayed pending a final determination of the ITC case.

CO2 Effects Not So Nice? Use it Twice, Says Carbon Sciences

February 8th, 2010

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Carbon Sciences is a Santa Barbara, California company that has developed a proprietary process to recycle carbon dioxide emissions into gasoline and other liquid fuels.

The company breaks down CO2 and extracts the carbon atoms to make new hydrocarbon chains.  According to its web site, Carbon Sciences’ process requires less energy and is more scalable than previous known techniques, which used expensive inorganic catalysts.

The key to the process is a multi-step biocatalysis that uses organic biocatalysts.  The company’s biocatalytic method uses inexpensive, renewable biomolecules to catalyze certain chemical reactions required to transform CO2 and water into fuel molecules.

Through nano-engineering of the biocatalysts and efficient process design, Carbon Sciences can operate these catalysis steps on a large industrial scale.  In particular, the company’s smart particle technology provides improved encapsulation of the enzymes that prolongs their effective lives and allows them to perform many reaction cycles.

The major components of the process are a CO2 Flue Gas Processor, a a Biocatalyst Unit, a Biocatalytic Reactor Matrix, a Filtration system and a conversion and polishing unit.

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The Biocatalytic Reactor Matrix is the heart of the process.  It is here, in a matrix of liquid reaction chambers, that the large quantities of biocatalysts perform the multi-stage breakdown of CO2 and transformation to hydrocarbons.

The company’s CEO, Byron Elton, told me that Carbon Sciences has filed four as yet unpublished patent applications directed to its CO2 recycling process.  Elton expects the company to file 4-6 more new patent applications this year. 

Carbon Sciences owns U.S. Patent Application Publication No. 2008/0277319 (‘319 Application), entitled “Fine particle carbon dioxide transformation and sequestration.”  According to Elton, the ‘319 Application covers the company’s initial forays into carbon capture and sequestration.

The ‘319 Application is directed to methods and systems for breaking down carbon dioxide into micron- or sub-micron-sized particles, classifying or separating out the particles of a desired size and reacting those particles to form mineral carbonates.

Carbon Sciences’ technology extends into several aspects of CO2 capture, sequestration and recycling, including advanced chemical processes that can use flue gas and brackish water to capture CO2 emissions and scrub it to yield pure CO2.

Because the market for gasoline and liquid fuels is likely to remain quite large for some time, Carbon Sciences’ recycling process provides an interim carbon mitigation option:  use the CO2 molecule twice.

eSolar and Penglai Electric Co. Enter Master Licensing Agreement for Solar Thermal Power in China

February 5th, 2010

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eSolar is a Pasadena, California solar thermal startup that makes solar power plants using flat mirrors, or heliostats, to concentrate sunlight onto a centrally located water tank suspended on a tower.  This type of structure is known as “power tower” architecture.

Founded in 2007, eSolar has seen very rapid success in business deals to implement and deploy its technology.  The latest, which is the biggest solar thermal deal ever, is a master licensing agreement with Chinese electrical power equipment manufacturer Penglai Electric (Penglai).

Penglai will develop at least 2 gigawatts of solar thermal power plants in China over the next 10 years using eSolar’s technology.

eSolar owns at least four published U.S. patent applications and at least half a dozen international applications relating to its solar thermal technology.  U.S. Patent Applications Pub. Nos. 2009/0241938 and 2009/0241939 are directed to solar receivers and U.S. Patent Application Pub. No. 2009/0107485 is directed to calibration and tracking control systems for heliostats. 

According to the technology description on eSolar’s web site, its cost-effective utility scale power plant is “based on mass-manufactured components and designed for rapid construction, uniform modularity, and unlimited scalability.”  The company’s heliostat is the “building block” of its power plants and is designed for deployment in pre-fabricated “heliostat sticks” for easy installation.

One factor that affects the efficiency of power tower plants is the positioning of the heliostats relative to the tower and to each other.  eSolar’s “modular field” of concentrating mirrors consists of thousands of systematically spaced heliostats arranged to optimize the layout and maximize efficiency. 

U.S. Patent Application Pub. No. 2009/0133685 (‘685 Application) is directed to eSolar’s heliostat array layouts.  Some embodiments of the ‘685 Application comprise three segments (128) with each segment divided into two variably spaced heliostat zones (128a, 128b).

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Heliostats (328a) in the first zone (128a) are spaced closer together than heliostats (328b) in the second zone (128b).  The heliostat locations are also staggered with respect to heliostat locations in adjacent rows.  A thermal receiver (228) is mounted on a central power tower.

Last year, eSolar entered into a similar deal with an Indian partner, ACME Group (ACME), to build solar thermal plants generating up to 1 gigawatt of power in India.  ACME is the exclusive licensee of eSolar’s technology in India.

eSolar’s success in deploying its solar thermal technology in emerging markets such as India and China belies claims by those countries and other developing nations that IP rights are acting as a barrier to transfer of clean technologies (see China View article here and my previous post here). 

Various proposals to weaken or eliminate IP rights, including compulsory licensing and even excluding green technologies from patent protection, have been put forth by India, China and other emerging market and developing countries and were contained in the official UNFCCC negotiating text for the Copenhagen meetings in December.

However, eSolar’s success in finding willing partners in India and China may actually be driven, at least in part, by intellectual property protection:  it’s hard to imagine Penglai or ACME investing in such large scale projects without the exclusivity in their home markets guaranteed by the master license agreements.

eSolar’s China deal was announced in early January.  It’s interesting that while climate change treaty negotiators were discussing IP as a barrier to international clean tech transfer eSolar and Penglai were probably finalizing the terms of the master license agreement that would be part of the largest ever transfer and deployment of solar thermal technology to China.

 

USPTO Director Talks Up Green Patent Initiatives

February 1st, 2010

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David Kappos, the Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), recently authored a guest column for Law360 in which he discussed the role of the USPTO and green patents in addressing climate change.

The piece, entitled “Patents Key to Fighting Climate Change,” reads like a mini-state of the union address for the USPTO and green technology.  In it, Kappos stresses the important role that the patent system plays in fostering clean tech innovation and touts USPTO initiatives relating to green technologies.

The article cites the following USPTO green technology programs:

the Green Technology Pilot Program that allows accelerated examination of patent applications relating to environmental quality, energy conservation, renewable energy resources or greenhouse gas emissions reduction (see my post about this program here)

an initiative to generate empirical data on the relationship between patents and international tech transfer

research on green technology innovation and diffusion in  China

development of a green technology web site to link inventors who want to license their their inventions with companies that want to develop them;

development of IP policies for R&D collaborations between the U.S. and other countries such as India and China

Mr. Kappos says that all of the initiatives are based upon a “deep understanding that timely and properly issued patents foster green technology innovation and promote widespread access to the benefits of such innovation.” 

According to Kappos:

the United States Patent and Trademark Office is committed to doing its part to ensure that the patent system fosters and incentivizes the creation, development and diffusion of green technology.

Mitsubishi Powers Past GE in ITC Wind Turbine Case

January 27th, 2010

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Mitsubishi has pulled off a come-from-behind victory in a wind turbine patent case against General Electric (GE) in the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). 

In a Notice issued on January 8th, the ITC terminated its investigation of GE’s complaint and found Mitsubishi did not violate any claims of the three patents asserted by GE.

GE filed the complaint in March of 2008, accusing Mitsubishi of infringing certain claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 5,083,039 (‘039 Patent) and 6,921,985 (‘985 Patent).  GE later amended the complaint to include U.S. Patent No. 7,321,221 (‘221 Patent). 

The ‘039 Patent is entitled “Variable speed wind turbine” and is directed to a variable speed turbine that provides responsive control of generator torque. 

The ‘985 Patent is entitled “Low voltage ride through for wind turbine generators” and is directed to a wind turbine that includes a blade pitch control system and a turbine controller coupled with the blade pitch control system. 

The ‘221 Patent is entitled “Method for operating a wind power plant and method for operating it” and is directed to improved methods for stabilizing the supply voltage to a wind turbine after voltage drops without jeopardizing the electrical components of the turbine.  

A more detailed discussion of the asserted patents can be found in my previous post on the federal court case between GE and Mitsubishi here.

The ITC decision to let Mitsubishi off the hook reversed an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) ruling in August of last year that Mitsubishi had violated the ‘039 and ‘985 Patents. 

Shortly after the ALJ decision, an ITC investigative attorney filed a petition with the ITC commissioners questioning certain infringement findings and raising concerns about whether GE met the domestic industry requirement of Section 337.

The Notice of Termination clears the way for Mitsubishi to assemble its imported turbine components and build a $100 million wind power plant in Forth Smith, Arkansas.

From Preclusion to Exclusion? ITC Staff Supports Paice Summary Judgment Motion

January 20th, 2010

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In two previous posts (here and here) I discussed the patent infringement case between hybrid drivetrain technology company Paice LLC (Paice) and Toyota in the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC).

In September of last year, Paice filed a complaint in the ITC asking the agency to investigate whether Toyota’s importation of the third generation Prius, the Camry hybrid and two Lexus models (Accused Products) infringed U.S. Patent No. 5,343,970 (‘970 Patent).

After the ITC agreed to open an investigation, Paice moved for summary determination of infringement, validity and enforceability of the ‘970 Patent. 

Specifically, Paice contended that Toyota was barred from asserting a defense of non-infringement of the ‘970 patent and from challenging the validity or enforceability of the ‘970 patent under the principles of claim preclusion and issue preclusion because of a prior federal district court and appeals court ruling against Toyota.

In a response issued in December and made public earlier this month, the ITC staff agreed with Paice and supported its motion.   The response noted that, although the Accused Products are different from those at issue in the federal court case, Toyota admitted that the hybrid drivetrains are materially the same as the vehicles found to infringe in that lawsuit.

Compounding Toyota’s troubles was a ruling last week in the same case in which the ITC staff opposed the automaker’s cross-motion for summary judgment that claim preclusion should bar Paice from obtaining any remedy in the investigation. 

The response rejected Toyota’s argument because claim preclusion applies only to the cause of action and does not include the ensuing remedies.

Assuming the administrative law judge follows the recommendations of the ITC staff, the only remaining issue would be whether Paice meets the “domestic industry” requirement. 

19 U.S.C. 1337 requires that there be an industry in the U.S. relating to the products at issue, which includes both an economic prong (demonstrated investment in plant/equipment, labor/capital, research and development or licensing) and a technical prong (demonstrated practice of the asserted intellectual property right).

Now the big question is whether Toyota will continue to fight or decide to fold and pay royalties to Paice.  If the case moves forward, it will be interesting to see whether the ITC finds Paice’s engineering, R&D and licensing activities in the U.S. suffice to meet the domestic industry requirement.

Considering what is at stake in this case – Paice has requested a permanent exclusion order barring entry into the U.S. of the Prius, Camry hybrid and the two accused Lexus models – I wonder if and when the mainstream media will start to pay attention.

Litepanels Asserts Film Production LED Lighting Patents

January 7th, 2010

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Litepanels, LTD, a UK company, and Litepanels, Inc., a Los Angeles-based corporation (collectively “Litepanels”), make LED lighting systems for use in film and TV production. 

Last month Litepanels sued Dot Line Corp. (Dot Line) and Infocus Camera & Imaging, LLC (ICI) in federal court in Tyler, Texas, alleging infringement of U.S. Patent Nos. 6,948,823 (‘823 Patent) and 7,604,361 (‘361 Patent) (litepanels_complaint.pdf). 

The ‘823 Patent is entitled “Wide area lighting apparatus and effects system” and is directed to a camera mountable lighting frame (302) having multiple lamp segments (306) arranged in a radial pattern around a center hole (303).  Each lamp segment 306 comprises a plurality of LEDs (305).

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The portable frame could be circular (as picture above) or rectangular.  When the portable frame is mounted to a movable camera, the frame follows the movements of the camera.

The ‘361 Patent is a continuation-in-part of the ‘823 Patent and is entitled “Versatile lighting apparatus and associated kit.”  It is directed to an LED light panel with a self-contained battery unit that provides power to the light elements but not to the camera.

Litepanels previously asserted the ‘823 Patent against Sony, which quickly settled the case about a month after the complaint was filed.

Cornell Spin Out Catalyzes CO2-Based Plastic Wrap

January 3rd, 2010

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Novomer, Inc. (Novomer) is a Cornell University spin out that makes green plastics, polymers and other chemicals from carbon dioxide and other renewable raw materials. 

Novomer uses catalysis systems invented by Cornell professor Geoffrey Coates, and patented by the university, to make various polymers.  One of the company’s primary products is polypropylene carbonate (PPC), known as NB-180, which consists of 50% fossil fuels and 50% carbon dioxide.

Through Coates’s chemical catalysis, epoxides (fossil fuel materials) can be reacted with carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide at low temperatures and pressures to produce high performance polymers that provide better barriers for storing food and decompose into environmentally benign products, according to the company’s web site.

U.S. Patent No. 6,133,402 (‘402 Patent) relates to zinc- and other metal-based catalysts for co-polymerization of alkylene oxides and carbon dioxide.  U.S. Patent No. 7,304,172 (‘172 Patent) is directed to cobalt catalysts, various co-catalysts and reversible chain transfer agents for use with cobalt catalysts for co-polymerization of propylene oxide and carbon dioxide. 

The ‘172 Patent claims a few different catalysts, including a cobalt catalyst having the following general structure:

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Novomer also owns International Patent Application Pub. No. WO 2009/148889 (‘889 Application), which published last month and is directed to methods of controlling the molecular weight distribution of polymers made by addition polymerization reactions.  The ‘889 Application incorporates by reference the ‘402 and ‘172 Patents and some of Coates’s scientific publications.

Novomer recently partnered with Kodak to build a pilot production facility to make plastic wraps and coatings for testing by prospective customers.  According to this Greentech Media story, because of the huge amounts of oil that go into plastics manufacturing, if Novomer’s process were to go universal U.S. fuel consumption could drop by 5%.

Toyota Slows Hybrid Vehicle Patent Attack as Court Rules “Speed Demands” Limitation Indefinite

December 21st, 2009

In a previous post, I wrote about patent attorney-inventor Conrad O. Gardner’s patent infringement suit against Toyota Motor Corp. (Toyota). 

In April 2008, Gardner sued Toyota in federal court in Seattle, accusing the automaker of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,290,627 (‘627 patent), entitled “Extended Range Motor Vehicle Having Ambient Pollutant Processing” by making and selling the second generation Prius, the Camry and the Highlander.

According to the second amended complaint (gardnercomplaint.pdf), the ‘627 patent’s early priority date (based on a parent patent application filed back in April 1992) was more than two years before Toyota began investigating the development of a commercial hybrid automobile.

Last month Toyota succeeded in knocking independent claim 6 out of the case when the court granted Toyota’s motion for partial summary judgment that the claim was invalid for indefiniteness under Section 112, paragraph 2 of the Patent Act.  This provision provides that patent claims must “particularly point[] out and distinctly claim[]” the subject matter of the invention.

The problematic language of claim 6 is “said speed demands.”  The claim reads:

6.  A hybrid motor vehicle comprising in combination:

an engine;

an electric motor;

a storage device;

said electric motor power said hybrid motor at lower speeds;

said engine powering said vehicle at high speeds; and said engine operative connected through a charging path for charging said battery at lower speeds

wherein said speed demands do not drop below 40 mph for predetermined time periods of 45 seconds.

The court held claim 6 indefinite because it is unclear what “said speed demands” refers to (gardner_order.pdf).  The claim recites both high speeds and lower speeds, however:

Nothing in claim 6 directs one of ordinary skill in the art as to which of the two earlier recited speeds provides the antecedent basis for “said speed demands.”

This is a significant win for Toyota because claim 6 was the broader of the two independent claims of the ‘627 patent.

Thanks to Stu Soffer, who brought this decision to my attention.